Zac Curtis called up to Arizona

It appears the flood gates have opened. Just a week after Aaron Blair became the first ever former Hillsboro Hop to debut in the major leagues, 2014 Hops closer Zac Curtis received his call to the show. Curtis will be the first ever former Hop to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It’s unknown just how long Curtis’ assignment will be with the Diamondbacks. The club has struggled to find reliable left-handed relieving out of the bullpen beyond the incumbent Andrew Chafin. Just last night, LHP Keith Hessler gave up three hits and three earned runs in Arizona’s 9-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Zac Curtis is the next left-handed farmhand to get the opportunity to help stabilize the D-backs’ bullpen. He has spent all of the 2016 season pitching for the Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide. Though his ERA sits at 5.23 through his 10.1 innings in the California League, he has struck out an astonishing 22 batters in that time frame. His ability to strike batters out is undoubtedly what separated him from other left-handed relievers in the D-backs’ system. It is possible he is being called up to face primarily left-handed batters in the big leagues. Against left-handed hitters in Visalia this year, he has thrown 4 innings, allowing three hits, no runs, while striking out ten and holding hitters to a .200 batting average. Those numbers balloon to an 8.53 ERA and .310 batting average when he faces right handers.

Hillsboro Hops vs Vancouver Canadians

Zac Curtis is the second former Hop to make it to the big leagues. He will be the first Hop to become a Diamondback. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

The Diamondbacks are in the middle of a stretch in which they play 20 games in 20 days, which oftentimes leads to an overworked bullpen. Last night’s game against Colorado was the 18th in 18 days, so it’s possible Curtis’ call-up is simply to stem the tides until the team is able to get their guys some rest with an off-day coming Monday. However, if he comes up and succeeds against left-handers as he has in the minors, he could stay in Arizona.

Zac was a fan favorite here in Hillsboro. He spent all of 2014 with the Hops as the closer and was absolutely dominant. He set the team record with 14 saves, and worked to an ERA of exactly 1.00 in 27 innings. In those innings, he recorded 42 strikeouts. In his minor league career, he has struck out an incredible 139 batters in 91.1 innings.

He became famous for his performance in the 2014 Northwest League Playoffs, in which Hillsboro swept its way through Boise and Vancouver on the way to its first-ever NWL title. Curtis recorded saves in all four playoff victories.

He recorded the final out in the 2014 championship game when he fielded a bare-handed comebacker to the mound and flipped to Kevin Cron.

Congratulations, Zac! You’ve made everyone in Hillsboro proud.

Some thoughts on Aaron Blair

Editor’s note: Earlier this week, Aaron Blair became the first Hillsboro Hop to make it to the major leagues. He threw 5.1 innings and allowed three earned runs for the Atlanta Braves against the New York Mets. Hillsboro Hops president and owner Mike McMurray penned some thoughts on Aaron’s journey to the big leagues, and what set him apart from day one.

For Laura and me, one of the primary attractions of Minor League Baseball is the opportunity to watch players pursue their Major League dreams. At the Short Season A level, most do not progress all the way. But on April 24, 2016, one of our very own Hillsboro Hops did make his National League debut. Aaron Blair, from the inaugural 2013 Hops’ team, took the mound for the Atlanta Braves.

For us, it was an emotional experience. As we watched him warm-up [thank you MLB.TV!!], the memories came rushing back. Shortly after the first day of the 2013 MLB amateur draft, the Diamondbacks informed us that Aaron, the 36th overall MLB pick, could be joining the Hillsboro Hops if he signed a contract relatively soon and he had no physical problems. Based on past experience we know these are pretty big “ifs”, particularly for a college pitcher. In any event, we were pretty excited.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Aaron Blair’s major league debut came Sunday, April 24th against the New York Mets. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

About two weeks after the draft, we finally heard something definitive: Aaron had signed his contract and would arrive in Hillsboro shortly. Whenever possible, a new player coming into town is given a quick tour of Ron Tonkin Field and is introduced to the front office staff. Laura and I were lucky enough to be in the office that day to meet Aaron.

My first impression of Mr. Blair was that he was very big, something like 6’ 4” and 230 pounds, and would look menacing on a mound 60’ 6” away. But to us he was very friendly and respectful. I could tell immediately that this was a guy we wanted to have around. Of course when you get the #36 pick in the draft, you cannot expect him to stay at the Short Season A level for long.

Because several weeks had passed since he last pitched competitively for Marshall University, Aaron’s early days as a Hop were devoted to conditioning.  He spent much time on the bullpen mound under the watchful eye of pitching coach Doug Drabek getting his arm and his pitches ready for NWL action. But Aaron’s routine also involved jogging around the warning track for extended periods of time. Alas, I convinced myself that Aaron Blair and I were kindred spirits, for I too jogged around Ron Tonkin Field on a semi-regular basis. Okay, maybe I did not run as fast or as long as Aaron, but that did not matter in my mind. Imagination has no limits.

On July 5, Aaron finally made his professional debut at home. He started for the Hops against the then-powerhouse Vancouver Canadians. He allowed no runs, gave up one hit, struck out two and induced one ground-ball double play over two innings. But with a full season of college ball under his belt and no desire to risk injury to his arm, he was pulled before he qualified for the win. He had officially started on his path to the Major Leagues and had shown enough in his first stint that we knew the path to not be too long. His debut was bittersweet for us; we were happy to see his success, but also knew that it meant his time as a Hop would be short.

After appearing in eight games for the Hops, Aaron was indeed promoted. The rest is history. He progressed steadily up the minor league ranks before being traded along with fellow Hops’ alumnus Dansby Swanson to Atlanta in December, 2015. The trade was fortuitous for Aaron as it speeded his ascent to the Major Leagues. But it was a little sad for us as we wanted him to make his debut in an Arizona Diamondbacks’ uniform. However, Aaron Blair will always be a member of the Hillsboro Hops family. We are very proud that he was the first Hop to The Show.

– Mike McMurray, President, Hillsboro Hops

Aaron Blair to become the first Hop in MLB

The wait is over. The first ever Hillsboro Hop to crack a Major League Baseball roster is Aaron Blair. He will debut for the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, April 24 against the New York Mets. He was a member of the 2013 Hops and was involved in the 2015 offseason trade that also sent Hops shortstop Dansby Swanson to the Braves in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller.

The Braves have sputtered out of the gates and are expected to struggle in 2016. One man’s struggle is another’s opportunity, and Blair has received one after Atlanta demoted starting pitcher Williams Perez following last Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Around the time Perez was struggling, Blair was in the middle of throwing seven no-hit innings for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate. Atlanta’s President of Baseball Operations, John Hart, was in the front row for Blair’s start and understandably came away very impressed. It just so happens that Sunday falls on exactly five-days rest for Blair, and he will be pitching in his normal slot in the rotation.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Aaron Blair is the first former Hop to make it to the Major Leagues. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Blair will toe the rubber against the defending National League champion Mets, and his opponent on the mound will be Jacob deGrom, the electric 2014 Rookie of the Year.

Aaron Blair was the 36th overall selection in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Marshall University. His first assignment in his professional career was to us here in Hillsboro. He started eight games for the Hillsboro Hops, logging a 1-1 record with a 2.90 ERA over 31 innings.

He flew through the minors and finished the 2014 season pitching for the Double-A Mobile BayBears. He was invited to big-league spring training where he pitched well and put himself on the radar of Diamondbacks’ brass. His highly anticipated debut was expected by some in 2015, but Arizona elected to stash Blair in Mobile and Triple-A Reno for the entire 2015 season. He clearly didn’t need much more seasoning, as he has been promoted in 2016 following just 19 innings in Gwinnett.

His debut comes for the Atlanta Braves following the blockbuster trade between Atlanta and Arizona at the 2015 Winter Meetings, and though he is no longer a D-back, he will always be a Hillsboro Hop.

Go get’em Aaron!

Hops movin’ on up

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the Major League Baseball season is officially underway, and Minor League Baseball Opening Day begins Thursday, April 7. With minor leaguers reporting to full-season rosters, a slew of former Hops will join the Triple-A Reno Aces, Double-A Mobile BayBears, Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide, and Long-A Kane County Cougars. Let’s go roster-by-roster and see where our boys will be in ’16.

Kane County Cougars – Long-A Midwest League (@KCCougars)

The Kane County Cougars are based in Geneva, Illinois and compete in the Midwest League. Kane County is a western suburb of Chicago. They’re the very next step up from Hillsboro, and the most common landing spot for those who finished 2015 in good standing with Hillsboro.

Fourteen former Hops find themselves on Kane County’s opening day roster:

  • Josh Anderson, 1B/3B, 2015
  • Taylor Clarke, RHP, 2015KC Cougars
  • Galli Cribbs, Jr., UT, 2014-15
  • Justin Donatella, RHP, 2015
  • Raymel Flores, SS, 2015
  • Cameron Gann, RHP, 2015
  • Brody Greer, RHP, 2015
  • Carlos Hernandez, RHP, 2015
  • Grant Heyman, OF, 2014-15
  • Jared Miller, LHP, 2014-2015
  • Trevor Mitsui, 1B, 2015
  • Zach Nehrir, OF, 2015
  • Jose Queliz, C, 2015
  • Alex Young, LHP, 2015

Visalia Rawhide – Advanced-A California League (@VisaliaRawhide)

The Visalia Rawhide play in Visalia, California, a city about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. The club is managed by 2014 Hillsboro Hops manager, J.R. House, and 2015 hitting coach Javier Colina will also be on staff this season. The California League contains an enormous amount of talent, and is known as a hitter’s league.

Eight former Hops (and one former Yakima Bear) cracked the Rawhide’s Opening Day roster:visalia-rawhide-primary-logo-2-primary

  • Nick Baker, RHP, 2014
  • Tyler Baker, C, 2014
  • Zac Curtis, LHP, 2014
  • Brad Keller, RHP, 2014
  • Luis Ramirez, RHP, 2014
  • Jimmie Sherfy, RHP, 2013
  • Myles Smith, RHP, 2015
  • Stryker Trahan, C, 2014-15
  • Blake Perry, RHP, Yakima Bears, 2011-12

Mobile BayBears – Double-A Southern League (@Mobile_BayBears)

The Mobile BayBears are based in Mobile, Alabama and compete in the Southern League. Double-A is arguably the most talented of any of the classifications of Minor League Baseball, with tons of players just a play away from a major-league call-up.

Four former Hops (and two Yakima Bears) start the season in Mobile:Mobile_BayBears

  • Kevin Cron, 1B, 2014
  • Daniel Gibson, LHP, 2013
  • Todd Glaesmann, OF, 2014
  • Will Locante, LHP, 2013
  • Ronnie Freeman, C, Yakima Bears, 2012
  • Tom Belza, IF, Yakima Bears, 2010

Reno Aces – Triple-A Pacific Coast League (@Aces)

The Triple-A Reno Aces is the last stop in the minor leagues before reaching the mountaintop in Phoenix, Arizona. They compete in the vaunted Pacific Coast League, a haven for hitters but a nightmare for pitchers, as ballparks are bandboxes parked at very high altitudes.

Two former Hops (and four Yakima Bears) open 2016 in Reno:Reno Aces

  • Braden Shipley, RHP, 2013
  • Stewart Ijames, OF, 2014
  • Mike Freeman, OF, Hops 2015 (rehab), Yakima Bears, 2010
  • Enrique Burgos, RHP, Yakima Bears, 2010 & 2012
  • Evan Marshall, RHP, Yakima Bears, 2011
  • Kevin Medrano, IF, Yakima Bears, 2012

A few notes: 2015 Hillsboro Hops SS Dansby Swanson will begin 2016 playing for the Carolina Mudcats of the Carolina League. It is the Advanced-A affiliate for the Atlanta Braves. 2015 RHP Aaron Blair starts 2016 pitching for the Gwinnett Braves, the Triple-A International League affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told Blair when he was sent to the minors, “You’re a blister away from the big leagues.”

There won’t be much news on the 2016 Hillsboro Hops roster for a few months, but we’ll be sure to keep you informed just as soon as we get any pertinent information.

Good luck to all of our former players as they continue to pursue their dreams of becoming big-leaguers. We’ll follow our former players closely and update you periodically on their progress through the system.

Best of luck to all of our affiliates who get it going today. Let’s get some more rings!

Spring training update!

It’s high-time for a check-up on our Hops in big-league spring training, don’t you think? A grand total of four former Hops were invited to big-league camp (the fourth being Will Locante who retained his invitation after being designated for assignment just before spring training) and all have made appearances for the Diamondbacks. Locante was reassigned to the minor-league side of spring training just a few days ago.

But! — Daniel Gibson, Braden Shipley, and Todd Glaesmann remain with the big-league camp, plying their trade and doing all they can to be considered big-league worthy at the outset of the MLB season.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes

Todd Glaesmann is off to a fast start at D-backs spring training.(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Let’s start with Glaesmann. The 2014 Hillsboro Hop is off to a fast start in spring, albeit in a small sample size. He has three hits in five at-bats over appearances in four games. He also had a base-hit in the game between the D-backs and the University of Arizona that isn’t combined with his Cactus League numbers. Simply looking at the numbers, the average is at .600, and he has also worked a walk. It’s early.

Glaesmann is still considered a long shot to make the team given the presence of AJ Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas, and Socrates Brito. The general feeling surrounding D-backs’ camp is that Brito has the inside track to claim the coveted fourth-outfielder spot in Phoenix, and he has been red-hot in the early-goings of camp. For Glaesmann to be on the D-backs’ opening day roster would require sustained excellence all throughout camp to set himself apart from the rising Brito. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

The more likely route for Glaesmann to the big leagues is a strong performance at Triple-A Reno and then an injury or underwhelming performance by an outfielder on the D-backs’ roster. However, as long as Glaesmann produces in big-league camp, he can make it a more difficult decision for those in the D-backs’ front office. In the meantime, he’s making a good early impression to possibly be considered for a promotion later in the season.

Braden Shipley has made just a single appearance for the D-backs thus far in Cactus League play, hurling a lone, scoreless inning. The outing was a tad shaky as Shipley gave up a hit and issued two walks, but he escaped unscathed. He’ll be scheduled to make a few more appearances shortly as he looks to build upon a dominant second-half of the 2015 season at Double-A Mobile.

For now, there isn’t a definitively clear path for Shipley to the big-league opening-day roster. Four rotation spots are already sewn up for the D-backs with Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin and Rubby De La Rosa, although his hold on one is growing a bit strenuous as his camp is off to a shaky start. There are a crop of pitchers beyond those four who are competing for the fifth rotation spot. Fellow top prospect Archie Bradley, Tyler Wagner, Robbie Ray, and Zack Godley are battling it out, and Ray has established himself as the clear front-runner.  With a strong camp and ineffectiveness from the front-runners, Shipley may see himself added to the competition for a slot in the rotation.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Braden Shipley is trying to throw his hat into the ring. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

His situation is similar to Glaesmann’s though. The opening-day big-league team may not be entirely feasible, but his camp can be looked upon as an extended audition for an eventual promotion somewhere down the line. If he impresses the big-league team and then the major-league rotation under-performs, Shipley can establish himself as an option. He’ll most likely start 2016 at Triple-A Reno, the same city in which he attended college at the University of Nevada. A strong performance there would bode very well for his big-league future.

Last, we’ll go to Daniel Gibson. His camp isn’t off to the best of starts as his first outing didn’t go as he would have liked. He managed to get two outs in his first inning of work, but gave up four runs in the process. His work will be cut out for him to get his numbers back in check, but it’s very early in camp. He’ll have ample time to rectify his situation if he strings together a handful of solid outings.

Gibson is competing for a spot as a left-hander in the D-backs bullpen, and a few of his competitors are off to solid starts, making his situation a bit murkier. Andrew Chafin is assured a bullpen slot after a solid 2015, and the newly signed Wesley Wright has been impressive in the early goings.

A little more fine-tuning in the minor-leagues remains likely for Gibson, but a couple of bounce-back outings would go a long way for him.

We’ll keep updating our former players as spring training continues and pretty soon we’ll have baseball right here at Ron Tonkin Field. 101 days until Opening Day.

Eight Hops among D-backs’ Top 30 prospects

Late last week, mlb.com updated their Top 100 prospects league-wide and the Top 30 lists for each individual team. After a whirlwind of transactional activity throughout the offseason, the Diamondbacks’ Top 30 received a significant shake-up. However, eight of the 30 players ranked have suited up for the Hillsboro Hops at some point in their young professional careers.

In order! Braden Shipley checks in as the D-backs’ top prospect, Alex Young at #5, Taylor Clarke at #12, Brad Keller at #13, Cody Reed at #15, Ryan Burr at #22, Jose Martinez at #26, and Tyler Mark at #29.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Braden Shipley has moved to the top of the D-backs’ system. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Notably absent from the list are Sergio Alcantara, Jeferson Mejia, Zac Curtis, and Carlos Hernandez. Both Alcantara and Mejia were on the list in the last installment, and Curtis and Hernandez both enjoyed stellar 2015 seasons.

Shipley has leapt to the top of the pack. He occupies the lead spot in the system, sliding into the hole created when 2015 Hops shortstop Dansby Swanson was traded to Atlanta. Swanson is now Atlanta’s highest-rated prospect.

Two other pitchers who made impressive climbs up the Top 30 by virtue of strong 2015’s were Taylor Clarke and Brad Keller. We know that Clarke didn’t give up a single run all of last season, but in 2016 he’ll move into the starting rotation at a higher classification. Look — he’s going to give up a run. But his adjustment back into the life as a starting pitcher will tell us more about Clarke’s ceiling. It looks to be very high.

Keller made just one start for the Hops in 2014 and he made the most of it. He arrived late in the season. In his lone start in the Northwest League on August 30 against Eugene, he threw six shutout innings allowing a lone hit. He walked one and struck out eight to earn himself the win.

He moved up to Kane County at the start of 2015, turning 20 midseason. He was phenomenal all year long at a very young age and finished the season with an 8-9 record and a 2.60 ERA across 142 innings. He was an 8th round pick in 2013 out of Flowery Branch High School in Georgia, and his success at a young age has put him on the prospect map.

Hillsboro Hops at Tri-City Dust Devils

Alex Young will pick up 2016 as a starter. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Arizona’s fifth-rated prospect, Alex Young, finds himself in a very similar situation as Clarke. Young was a dominant left-handed reliever for the Hops last season, pitching on a heavy innings restriction after a demanding final collegiate season at Texas Christian. Arizona wants to pursue Young as a future starting pitcher, and he’ll be given every opportunity to develop into a starter. His workload will be ramped up and he’ll be facing stronger competition in 2016. We’ll learn a ton about Young this season.

Ryan Burr, the Hops’ closer in the first half of the 2015 season, checks in at #22 on the Top 30. The former Arizona State Sun Devil has the look of a big-league closer, coupling a strong fastball with a developing slider. How quickly the secondary offerings develop will determine how quickly Burr moves through the system. He’s probably earned a trip to Advanced-A  Visalia to start 2016, but he has a chance to jump to Double A if he continues his dominant form.

A new crop of D-backs’ prospects will enter the fold following the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft in early June. Some of the new draftees will undoubtedly by destined for Hillsboro. Be on the lookout for our Hops in the Top 30 to make some big leaps in the coming season.

 

 

Three Hops invited to D-backs’ spring training

Major League Baseball spring training begins in earnest next week when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona Diamondbacks camp. It’s the start of another season — when hope springs eternal and everyone is even in the standings — even if it’s just for a day or two.

Three former Hops have secured invitations to big league camp with the D-backs: 2014 outfielder Todd Glaesmann, 2013 starting pitcher Braden Shipley, and 2013 relief pitcher Daniel Gibson. Two other former Hops, 2013 starting pitcher Aaron Blair and 2015 shortstop Dansby Swanson, will report to Atlanta Braves big league camp, after the D-backs and Braves struck a blockbuster trade in December at the Winter Meetings.

So what does a big-league spring training invite mean? For one, it certainly means you’ve caught the attention of the big club. Elite minor-leaguers are invited to see how they stack up against the best competition in the world. Some are invited just to get a taste before being reassigned to minor-league spring, while others have a legitimate chance to crack an opening-day roster.

Shipley and Gibson both seem to have a stronger chance to break the season as Diamondbacks than Glaesmann. However, Shipley’s path to the big leagues was somewhat clouded as the D-backs signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke and traded for fellow starter Shelby Miller. With those two joining incumbent rotation members Patrick Corbin, Rubby de la Rosa and Robbie Ray, Shipley’s 2016 major-league future seems a bit more uncertain.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Braden Shipley will work with the big-leaguers in spring training. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Shipley finished 2015 very strong. In August at Double-A Mobile, he went 1-2 with a 1.15 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 39 innings. He was a bit inconsistent earlier in the season, but settled down and performed extremely well down the stretch. If he were to come out in spring training and dominate consistently, the D-backs might not be able to ignore him.

Both de la Rosa and Ray are relatively unproven, and any hiccup may open up a door for Shipley if he is good enough. There is also strong competition beyond those first five pitchers when you add in guys like Zack Godley, Randall Delgado and Archie Bradley. Shipley will have to be very, very good to earn a rotation spot to start 2016. More than likely, he’ll be destined for more seasoning in Reno or Mobile.

Gibson at this point is a stronger candidate to be an opening-day D-back, even if it is still unlikely. He came on very strong in 2015, posting a 1.56 ERA across 52 innings between Visalia and Mobile. He struck out 58 in that span. He then proceeded to post a 0.00 ERA across eight innings in the hyper-competitive Arizona Fall League.

Gibson is something every team needs: a left-handed reliever. Lefties who can touch the mid-90’s with a fastball are rare commodities, and Gibson is proven at some of the most competitive minor league levels in the D-backs’ chain. Arizona’s bullpen is considered to be one of the team’s vulnerabilities, and there is only one lefty absolutely guaranteed a bullpen spot for 2016 in Andrew Chafin. Most teams like to carry at least two in the bullpen. Gibson will compete with Matt Reynolds, and fellow spring training invitee Wesley Wright for that coveted spot.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem Keizer Volcanoes

Todd Glaesmann earned a trip to Phoenix. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

He is still probably a long shot to start the season with Arizona, but if his form continues to be strong in the upper minors and the big league bullpen encounters turbulence, Gibson will be ticketed for Chase Field soon.

Todd Glaesmann hit 14 homers in 94 games with the Triple-A Reno Aces last season and got himself on the radar of the big league club. His path at this point appears a bit blocked, with outfielders David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Yasmany Tomas firmly entrenched in Phoenix. The fourth outfielder job is expected to go to the highly-touted and wonderfully-named prospect Socrates Brito, who performed admirably in a short stint in Arizona last season.

If injuries were to befall any of the big-league outfielders, Glaesmann may find himself some spot work as a Diamondback. He still needs to prove he can consistently produce offensively at the highest level of the minor leagues, which means additional time as an Ace is probably in the cards. (Get it?)

Aaron Blair will have an excellent chance to make the Atlanta Braves if he performs well in spring training. His new team is in the midst of a rebuild, and opportunities are plentiful in the organization. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring, he should be up at some point in 2016.

Dansby Swanson is still probably a year away, although his new manager Fredi Gonzalez expects him to move quickly. With the Braves moving to a new ballpark in 2017, it appears Swanson, a Georgia native, has a legitimate chance to open the 2017 season and the new ballpark as the Braves starting shortstop.

Grant Heyman, Outfielder, Sydney Blue Sox

During the long baseball offseason, players do all sorts of different things. Some continue playing winterball in various international leagues, some go home to rest and train, and some even take jobs to help make ends meet throughout the winter months.

I recently caught up with 2014-2015 outfielder Grant Heyman, who spent the winter in Sydney, Australia playing for the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League. He played in 24 games, hitting .267 with three home runs. He took the time to chat with me about his ambitions, life in Australia, and what he wants to accomplish in 2016.

Q: How did you end up playing for the Sydney Blue Sox in Australia?

Grant Heyman: I expressed to the D-Backs after the season that I was interested in playing winter ball to make up for lost time on the DL this year. I got a call in about mid-November telling me they had a spot in Sydney for me and to pack my bags!

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Grant went to Australia to get some AB’s (Joe Vella/Sydney Blue Sox)

Q: How long were you there for?

GH: I spent about a month there.

Q: Was it something you always wanted to do?

GH: Yes. When I heard about the league in Australia I thought it could be a perfect opportunity to continue to play professional baseball in the offseason and see a beautiful country.

Q: What were your living arrangements like down there?

GH: Townhouse. It was nice and I roomed with another American, Rhys Hoskins with the Phillies organization, and an ex-Japanese major league pitcher Keiji Uezono.

Q: What has been your favorite thing about Australia?

GH: The people and the beaches. Everyone is very welcoming and the beaches are worth the trip.

Q: How does the competition level in Australia compare to the minor leagues in the states?

GH: It’s interesting actually. I’ve faced multiple former big league pitchers since I’ve been here and some that haven’t played affiliated ball. Minor league competition is more consistent but I have had the chance to face more pitchers with big league time here.

Q: Was it hard for you to come back to the states?

GH: I will miss it here but it will never be hard returning to the states.

Q: Did you have any moments of culture shock?

GH: A common language helped with culture shock but the hardest thing for me to get used to was driving on the other side of the road and having to watch cricket on TV instead of football!

Q: You played well in Australia. Was there anything specific you worked on down there?

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He hit well in 24 games with the Blue Sox (Joe Vella/Sydney Blue Sox)

GH: Not in particular. More than anything, I just wanted to get as many at-bats as possible. Plate discipline is something I need to work on and the only way to help that is more at-bats.

Q: You were a part of two championship teams with the Hops. What has been your favorite memory playing in Hillsboro?

GH: Honestly I don’t have one favorite memory. Every time I got to put on a Hops jersey and play at Ron Tonkin Field was such a blessing. The fans, the town and the ownership make it such a great experience and have contributed to some of the best years of my life.

Q: How has your time in Hillsboro changed you as a baseball player?

GH: Playing in Hillsboro has taught me what winning a championship is like and what it takes to get there. I learned that you can’t just go out and play for yourself, but if you play to win, good things will happen.

Q: What do you want to accomplish stateside in 2016?

GH: Another championship ring of course! And to keep climbing the minor league ladder which means taking everything at-bat by at-bat and game by game.

A big thank you to Grant for taking the time to update us on how he spent his winter. We’ll keep providing updates on him and other former Hops as they climb their way towards Arizona.

Stay #AllHoppedUp, Grant!

Banquet Guest and 2016 Consultant: Ben Petrick

The final guest for the Third Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet is Hillsboro’s own Ben Petrick. Ben will be on hand along with Hops’ manager Shelley Duncan, pitching coach Mike Parrott, hitting coach Jose Amado, Diamondbacks’ farm director Mike Bell, Diamondbacks’ vice president Bob Gebhard, and Diamondbacks’ assistant hitting coach Mark Grace. Together, the panelists will help to raise funds to help kids continue playing baseball and softball. The banquet is on January 30th, this coming Saturday, at NW Events & Environments in Hillsboro.

Ben Petrick- Coach

Ben Petrick joins our Hops Fund panel. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Ben has served as a special consultant for the Hillsboro Hops ever since the team came to town in 2013. He has called Hillsboro home his entire life, and attended Glencoe High School where he was all-state in baseball and football. A catcher by trade, Ben works closely with the Hillsboro backstops and pitchers to help build the relationship between battery-mates. He is also well-versed in swing mechanics, and is a mainstay in the video room.

He was a decorated catcher in his playing days. He was the rare five-tool catcher, possessing elite athleticism and offensive prowess in addition to his abilities defensively. He was selected in the second round of the 1995 draft by the Colorado Rockies. The man who drafted him is none other than Bob Gebhard, another banquet guest.

Ben made his major league debut in 1999 with the Rockies. His debut was electric, as over the course of the 1999-2000 seasons in which he appeared in 71 games, he hit .322 with seven home runs.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000, but he continued to play baseball while battling the illness. His last season in the big leagues was in 2003 with Detroit before retiring and announcing he was battling the disease. In 240 big league games, he hit .257 and 27 home runs.

He has gone on to author the riveting 40,000 to One, an incredible collection of personal stories from his days in baseball, his fight with Parkinson’s and his growth as a husband and father. He is married to Kellie, with whom he has three daughters: Makena, Madison, and Bailey. The family resides in Hillsboro.

We’re extremely fortunate to have Ben back for another season as consultant, as he continues to help minor leaguers accomplish the same feat he did in 1999.

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The last silent auction item we’ll highlight is a Doug Drabek signed, game-worn Portland Mavericks jersey. Drabek served as the Hops’ pitching coach for each of the last three seasons, presiding over dominant staffs that were either among the leaders or led the Northwest League in ERA. Last year, the staff set a record by posting 11 shutouts during the regular season.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Doug Drabek wore the Mavericks threads well. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

The Hops paid homage to the Portland Mavericks on August 20, 2015, with the team donning the iconic red, white, and black of the Mavs. It was a unique throwback to a legendary uniform combination. This is an opportunity to own a seriously authentic throwback jersey worn by a former Cy Young Award winning pitcher.

Doug Drabek pitched for thirteen seasons in the big leagues with the Yankees, Pirates, Astros, White Sox, and Orioles. His best years came as a member of the Pirates, when he won the National League Cy Young award after winning 22 games with a 2.76 ERA. All told, he won 155 games in his major league career.

He was promoted this season to become the pitching coach for the Double-A Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. He’ll have his hands on some of the most prized arms in Arizona’s system, and he’ll be reunited with some Hops who have moved along the developmental chain.

Hope to see you all on January 30th!

Banquet Guest and 2016 Manager: Shelley Duncan

Earlier this month, it was announced that 2015 Hillsboro Hops manager Shelley Duncan would return to the team as manager in 2016. Shortly after that, the team announced Duncan would attend the Third Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet as a special guest and panelist. He’ll take the stage with the entire 2016 coaching staff on January 30th at NW Events & Environments in Hillsboro.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Our fearless leader returns — in the dugout and at the banquet. (Molly J Smith/Hillsboro Hops)

Duncan made his managerial debut with the Hops in 2015 in what can only be considered a rousing success. He successfully guided his club to a second consecutive Northwest League Title after securing both halves of the Northwest League South Division. The Hops finished with the best overall record in the entire Northwest League and then posted a 3-0 record in elimination games in the playoffs.

Though it was his first year in the dugout on the managerial side, Duncan has spent his entire life around the game. He is the son of legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan, who has long been a trusted confidant of Tony La Russa, the celebrated former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics, and current Chief Baseball Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Shelley essentially grew up in major league dugouts around some of the most influential names in the history of baseball.

He also played seven seasons in the big leagues with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Tampa Bay Rays. During that time he knocked 42 doubles and 43 home runs. His managers as a player included Joe Torre, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi, and Manny Acta, all of whom helped to shape him into the manager he is today.

Duncan played a lot of first base during his time with the Yankees from 2007-2009. His infield at the time? Robinson Cano played second base, the unparalleled Derek Jeter was at short, and Alex Rodriguez manned the hot corner.

He has a wealth of stories from his time as a player and manager, and on January 30th, he’ll peel back the curtain on his baseball life.

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Want the ring Shelley wears on his finger? The Hillsboro Hops Fund silent auction will give you a chance to bid on an actual Hops championship ring from the 2015 season. The 2014 championship ring was designed by Jostens and was absolutely beautiful, and the renderings of the 2015 ring show that this year’s will again be something special.

Hillsboro Hops at Tri-City Dust Devils

Duncan and Co. won the title. Now you can win the ring. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

The Hops Fund banquet is the only time where you would be able to walk away with a piece of Northwest sports history. It would be a fantastic addition for any collector of sports memorabilia, or any ardent Hops supporter. See you next weekend!

 

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